Wednesday, May 31, 2017

To Tip or Not to Tip?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
To tip or not to tip, that is the question.

I just returned from a trip to Sydney, Australia, where I keynoted an event and also conducted a journey mapping master class. It was my first time to Australia, so before I traveled, I did a little homework on what I needed to take along, what to expect while there, etc.

One of the interesting things I learned was that it's not necessary to tip; Australia has a non-tipping culture. There is no expectation of a tip at all: not from the cab driver, the bartender, the waitress, the bellhop, or anyone else. In restaurants, for example, the wait staff is paid a solid hourly wage ($15-$18/hour) versus the minimum wage (or in some cases, less) received by wait staff in the States.

I also learned that customers most likely only tip in a fine-dining restaurant, but even then it's not mandatory, and the gratuity amount for great service is usually 10% (versus 20% for the best service in the States).

A few years ago, I wrote a post called Are Gratuities an Expectation? and explored what that meant. When I arrived in Australia, I was really curious to find out how this would affect the customer experience. How would a non-tipping culture fare against what I was used to?

"How was the service?" you ask.

Well, let's just say that it wasn't consistent across the board, but it was pretty disappointing. My first cab driver was quite rude and not helpful at all, and I was warned afterward that that was the norm. At several restaurants, I sat for a long time just waiting for a waiter to take my order or to (re)fill my glass. Not only did I wait, but at two restaurants (because it had been so long) I got up to find waiters and wasn't able to find a soul! Those experiences would rarely/ever happen in the States; certainly not as often as they did in the week that I was in Sydney.

Would it be different if there was the expectation of a tip for great service delivered? I think so.

What do you think?

Here is the simple but powerful rule... always give people more than they expect to get. -Nelson Boswell


  1. As an Australian who has travelled several times to the States I'll weigh in here :)

    First, I've found that a 20% tip in the US is expected, irrespective of the quality of service provided. So it doesn't guarantee good service, it becomes just an additional fee on top of the advertised price. I guess Australians are used to quoted prices being all-inclusive (you would have noticed that all taxes are included in the advertised price here as well).

    Secondly, I'm uncomfortable with the "sing for your supper" level of desperation that tipping culture can bring out in some service staff. To a more reserved culture, the overly sunny obsequiousness just makes one feel uncomfortable, not better served.

    It's also worth noting there are different cultural norms with respect to service. With the possible exception of still water, Australian waiters do not automatically top up your beverages unless specifically asked to do so. We don't have a culture of the "bottomless soda fountain".

    As a tourist in the US, I fund the labyrinthine unwritten rules about who should be tipped and how much quite baffling and intimidating. You never know who you are going to inadvertently slight because they expect a tip for something you never thought of tipping for.

    Just my humble opinion . . . I make no excuses for rude Sydney taxi drivers which, sadly, come with the territory!

    1. Thanks, Regan, for your thoughts. Appreciate your perspective. I think it's one of those topics that many consider carefully, and to your point, try to understand the cultural norms. And yet, we are still perplexed by the whole thing.

  2. Overall, I agree with Regan. Until retiring last year, I spent many years travelling to the USA and elsewhere in the world. 20+ times per year to North America in my final few years, mainly to the Bay Area. I observed that my American colleagues always tipped about the same amount, irrespective of service. The Bay Area rule seems to be to double the 9% sales tax amount, so to always give 18%. There are some complete tipping mysteries, such as whether to leave tips for hotel chambermaids. I surveyed my US colleagues, and about half did so systematically.

    As to rudeness in some countries... well Danes, Australians, Germans and Israelis would prefer to say they are frank and open, and may consider others to be dishonestly hiding their true opinions. This all makes cross-cultural business negotiations fun.

    1. Thanks, Maurice. I agree; there are a lot of gray areas when it comes to tipping. This is the part that continues to perplex folks and cause us great feelings of guilt!

  3. Tipping by no means ensures great service (as others have pointed out). As an American, I'm also confused at times by tipping expectations in the U.S., such as a tip jar at a self-serve yogurt stand! Or why we tip for an alcoholic beverage, but not for a soda when the same basic service is performed.

    I've spent a lot of time in Ireland (not yet Australia, but I will). There generally is no expectation of a tip there in most situations. I've also found that dining has its own set of cultural norms that appear rude to Americans but are polite in Ireland. For example, the custom in Ireland is to let diners relax a little before bringing the bill. To an American who doesn't understand this, it can be perceived as poor service since the custom in the U.S. is to bring the bill instantly once service is complete. I wonder if you experienced something similar in Australia where the local customs didn't match what you were used to from dining in the U.S.?

    1. Thanks, Jeff. I agree with your comments about cultural norms. And, yes, I did experience that in Australia, too, especially the notion that we expect the bill to be presented instantly upon completion of the dinner, with no time to relax a little after dinner. I will say, though, that that is also not consistent here in the US. It varies by type of restaurant, for sure, with fine dining restaurants less likely to rush the bill at the end of dinner.

  4. Annette, I honestly hadn't given tipping a whole lot of thought but this is a really interesting perspective. Great article!

    1. Thanks, Jeremy. I think that's often the case here in the States.

  5. Annette,

    An interesting question, I suspect there is a happy medium between always getting a tip and never getting a tip.

    A blanket yes or no approach and subsequent expectation will always drive a certain type of behaviour